The Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach is the second jewel in the prestigious Triple Crown. It's also the last men's Qualifying Series event for 2019, so it's do or die for those hoping to break into the big leagues in 2020 - or make sure they stay there.
Last year - when the event was taken out by Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau - all thirteen surfers who finished above the cut off line (thereby punching their ticket to the Championship Tour) counted a Triple Crown result towards qualification. Keep a close eye on hopefuls such as Alex Ribeiro, Miguel Pupo, Frederico Morais, Barron Mamiya and Nat Young, among others.
"Triple Crown to me was everything," said Lau, who is sitting on the CT re-qualification bubble and will be looking for another big result at Sunset.
"I used to try and ask my dad to let me cut school just so I could come and watch the guys, and I remember one year, for my birthday, he let me do it. Sunny (Garcia) ended up winning that year and it was one of the most special moments of my life. I cherish those moments and those are the things that drove me to become a surfer and who I am today."
There's big points on offer here, and a good result can see surfers catapulted way up the rankings. Take for example Maui's Dusty Payne, who returned to competition last year after nearly drowning at Pipeline in January 2018. He won the Hawaiian Pro in 2014 and earned 2nd place at the Vans World Cup to qualify for the 2015 CT - with his Triple Crown results shooting him 42 places up the QS rankings.
Before Pipe stole the limelight in the 1970s, Sunset Beach was the star of the North Shore. It was first surfed in 1939 by Lorrin Harrison, Gene Smith and John Kelly on finless boards. The first Duke Kahanamoku Invitational was held at Sunset Beach in 1965, and the event ran until 1985 when it was replaced by the Billabong Pro. And another piece of surf history: the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in honor of Eddie Aikau actually started at Sunset Beach in 1984.
The waves at Sunset break over an enormous volcanic reef which produces at least six distinct sections that do better with particular wind and swell directions. But it's the The Point where you will find the quintessential Sunset Beach wave displayed in much of the iconic Sunset footage. Drawing in west, northwest over a double finger of reef, this beast breaks anywhere from six to 18 feet.
Sunset does best with a solid northwest swell and a light helping of the prevailing easterly trade winds; anything that veers more northeasterly can cause a side-shore texture but hold up the left hander.
Sunset expert Pancho Sullivan has said the magic of this break is the variability of the waves. "There are so many different looks at Sunset. Every day is completely different." Part and parcel of this unpredictability are the notorious Sunset cleanup sets, and the merciless Kammiland rip, which can mean constant paddling to stay in position and can pull the unwary into the impact zone.
Sunset is rewarding for those who get it wired or luck into the right wave, but can frustrate and confuse even the best in the world; it requires all the paddle fitness and years of experience surfers can throw at it. And while Pipeline has stolen some of the limelight from this former king of the North Shore, this is still one of the premier proving grounds for surfers from across the globe.